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Foraging for hedgerow fruit. How to identify wild (cherry) plums, bullaces and wild damsons

hedgerow fruitFinally I got fed up with the bully at work.

I threw down my brush, jumped into Jalopy and we rumbled towards my old hedgerow fruit hunting grounds. I was out for lunch half an hour early but what the heck. I can make up the time at the end of the day when the bully has gone home.

I had a suspicion that things were not right hedgerow-wise. I pulled up beside my main hunting ground, grabbed an old carrier bag and discovered that the trees were bare. Industrial hedge trimmers had hacked the branches. I gazed dismayed at yards of naked bare twigs. I scrambled into the woods and looked up. Nothing, apart from a handful of unripe fly infested fruit. Jalopy and I motored to the secret spot where I normally find plump juicy bullaces. It took me a few minutes to find some. They were tiny, only a few ripening, at least a month early.

Jalopy nosed towards the secondary hunting stretch. The same ripped branches. Hedge trimmer had visited shortly before.

Two years ago I found a tree covered with deep red succulent wild plums, also known as cherry plums. These were the Veuve Cliquot of wild plums in our area. Over a two week period I gathered 26 lbs of fruit from this small tree. Last year someone discovered this tree before me.

I decided to drive past it today. Joy of joys, it was heavy with fruit. Jalopy waited patiently as I harvested a carrier bag full. Lovely sweet fruit with a sharp edge. Perfect for our chutney or damson cheese. And they were ripe and ready to pick (when do you know when hedgerow fruit is ready to pick? See Tricks and tips below). Suddenly the sun shone gloriously for me.

The picture above shows, right to left, a wild (cherry) plum, bullace and a wild damson. The latter will ripen to a dark red/back colour. The bullace is usually much bigger and plumper and is just like a small greengage. Wild plums are not a standard size, this is a large and particularly delicious one from my favourite tree.

Tricks and tips:

When do you know when hedgerow fruit is ready to pick?

This is easy and so heartening. When the fruit is ready to pick you just need to touch the fruit and it will fall into your hand. Picking with the gentlest touch.

You can pick unripe fruit and it will ripen in a bowl at home. I found unripe damsons today and as they are so rare, picked them to ripen on a windowsill. However they are at their best ripened on the tree.


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53 Comments

  1. I would like to know how to prun and get bigger cherry plums of my tree. It has several branches that the children have played on and now wont grow. Desperate please help

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Anna

      You need a tree specialist to help you with the pruning.

      The size of cherry plums will always be small.

  2. Last year I moved to a new house, near a farm. Having made friends with the farmer I have picked kilos and kilos of wild cherry plums (of all colours!), more kilos of elderberries and blackberries and am now harvesting hips, haws and what might be sloes but are more likely bullaces. My dog is a great fruit eater and strips hawthorn berries and sloes (as well as the gooseberries and plums in my garden) from the trees. I have made about 200 jars of jam now which is all sold to raise money for a local charity. Great fun making them all and tasting the products! Fortunately I used to spend summer holidays with my grandmother in the country and she taught me how to recognize the wild food. I’m amazed how much just goes to waste ‘cos people can’t be bothered or don’t know what can be eaten!

  3. rovernut

    Thanks for the great site it has really helped us identify our “plums”!

    This year we were bombarded with massive amounts of red yellow and
    purple berries from our next door neighbour’s trees. He planted them on
    his boundary about forty years ago before our bungalow was built.

    The mess they made was quite annoying as they landed on our path and
    drive and they had to be brushed up regularly before they trod into the
    house.

    We never dreamed of eating them but after checking this website we
    gather them every day or so and just put them in the microwave with a
    cup of sweetner or sugar to taste. Mmmm great with ice-cream!

    I suppose we’re stealing them from our neighbour so must take him the
    odd dessert bowl full for his tea time treat occasionally! Mind the
    stones!

    Chris

  4. I have just found this great site, and it has made me feel a whole lot better – to explain, I found a whole area full of lovely looking fruit, the yellow fruit I am quite sure are some sort of plums, but some are smaller and red and some trees have really purple coloured fruit, sort of sloe colour, (I know them, tons about this year). All look like some sort of plums so I have made a mountain of plum jam, so my question is (before I poison everone) are there any poisonous fruits that I could have instead of plums? the stones inside are like plum stones with a ridge and not round like a cherry.
    By the way I used my cherry/olive stoner to de stone them, so easy.

  5. anjiejag

    Went foraging yesterday and collected some lovely cherry plums along part of the Staffordshire way. Also found some small wild damsons and some small yellow plums. Sloes are not so easy to find at the moment, but I am going to persist. I would like to collest sweet chestnuts but am not sure when they would be ready and can anyone give me a recipe idea for them?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Anjijag

      I do have a recipe for sweet chestnuts here http://www.cottagesmallholder.com/sweet-chestnut-jam-recipe-97, they ripen in late Autumn I think.

  6. Hi, I stumbled (purely by accident)to your website today and i have to say- what a delight! I\'[m also a very keen forager but i tend to only pick things like blackberries and rosehips. However, i have noticed that down at my local park there are a few trees which i’m guessing are plums (although perhaps damsons)! However, they are all different and was wondering if there is anything growing in the UK which could be at all poisonous or should i just go out and pick them as nobody else seems to be! Also, there are many apple trees but i’m not sure if these are edible either. Any helpful hints would be much appreciated! I’m off now to make some of your delicious blackberry and apple jam- i hope it turns out ok! x

  7. Hello, nice to be in cotact again. Was out walking on hills near home and came across great swathes of bilberries ready to be picked. One lady was picking some and told me that she made bilberry wine for her sons wedding last year! Internet says they are insipid and need to be incoporated with a carrier such as apples. Has anyone used this fruit for anything other than wine? Recipes please!

  8. Jeannine

    Hi , I have today picked something that looks like the middle picture, some are hard and green, about the colour of a green tomato and the size of a large cherry. Others which are getting ripe because nthey are soft are a tad more golded with a blush. I have looked up Bullace and Mirabelles . Bullace says ripens in October but hw we are In July and this fruit is dropping from the tree and some id definately ripening.Does anyone have any idea what it is. Cutting one open shows me a plum stone not a cherry. Thank you.Oh I am in Canada

  9. annsteer

    I have today picked 20lbs of the wonderful cherry sizes plums, they have made a wonderful jam, once the pips were strained it ended more like a jelly than a jam. A bit tart but wonderful.

  10. Janice Matthews

    Hi

    Hubby has just brought a pumpkin from the garden,I have never cooked one before,after reading the recipe i’m going to make it now for lunch.
    Thankyou

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